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National Pilot Program Connects Wild Mustangs and Veterans for the Chance to Save Each Other

Written by on June 21, 2019

EquiCenter’s Mission MustangTM Pairs Two American Icons for Journey Toward Mutual Growth and Healing

Honeoye Falls, NY—Hyper-vigilance. Stress. Anxiety. These are just a few classic post-traumatic stress (PTS) emotions experienced by veterans returning from combat and other military service. Approximately 540,000 American veterans are diagnosed with PTS, and countless more remain undiagnosed, but struggle with it daily.

Another American symbol of freedom, resiliency, and strength is fighting its own battle for a place in a changing world. With shrinking open acreage, America’s wild mustang is losing its natural habitat. While more than 50,000 continue to roam free, approximately 50,000 are in holding facilities—prey animals in unfamiliar surroundings—waiting for a second chance. 

Enter Mission Mustang, a national pilot program resulting from a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and EquiCenter, Inc., the therapeutic riding facility outside of Rochester, NY, under the guidance of Founder and CEO Jonathan Friedlander.

To launch this program, EquiCenter received six mustangs from the BLM’s public lands in Wyoming and Nevada. Under the direction of nationally acclaimed mustang trainers Jack and Emma Minteer of Rose Hill Ranch, 10 military veterans participating in Mission Mustang have been learning how to “gentle” and train these never-handled horses to meet the training milestones for their new careers. 

To that end, EquiCenter will be making four Mission Mustang horses available for sale this month through an online auction, allowing more mustangs to enter the program. Opening bids will begin at $1,500. “Buyers should know that within each mustang’s already big heart will be a special piece of the veteran’s heart going with them.”

Hero—the aptly named five-year-old mustang from Wyoming—has built a remarkable relationship with 14-year Marine Corps Veteran Teagan Manning, one of the veterans in the Mission Mustang program. “I realized that if I was going to help Hero, I was going to have to find this calm centeredness within myself in order to help him learn and achieve the things he needs to achieve,” said Manning. “And that calm centeredness…I haven’t felt in years.” 

“I realized that Hero was really stressed, and pretty quickly I made that connection between what he was experiencing and what I was experiencing.” While the training has helped Hero go from unhandled to being ridden, Manning also has experienced life-changing progress: “Inside the ring, I gained confidence, trust, purpose and focus. Outside the ring…I really think I have developed greater hope and healing in the process.”

Manning is not the only one looking forward with hope. Friedlander has big plans for the gentled Mission Mustang horses. “Replicating the Mission Mustang program will have a profound impact on the tens of thousands of waiting mustangs and veterans.“

The BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Adoption Program’s Debbie Collins noted that “EquiCenter met the BLM’s needs in a unique way. Its willingness to contribute its expertise to document the progress of each mustang and veteran demonstrates the unlimited opportunities of partnering a BLM animal with a veteran that can benefit from the experience. EquiCenter has surrounded itself with quality trainers, mentors and partners to far exceed BLM’s initial expectations for the program.”

Photos, interviews, and videos are available on request. Visit https://www.equicenterny.org/mission-mustang.

About EquiCenter:

Celebrating its 15th year, EquiCenter, at the William & Mildred Levine Ranch, is a premier accredited member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), and a 501(c)(3) non-profit facility serving those with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth. Its purpose is to foster the personal growth and achievement of all they serve. Visit www.equicenterny.org for all programs.  


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